Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Joe Mazzafro

If your October is like mine you have way more things going on than you have time to deal with.  Over the course of the next three weeks there’s AFCEA’s Fall Intelligence Symposium, NIP’s Annual Meeting, GEOINT, and the annual DCGS Conference.  Through in a day job, Oracle Open World in San Francisco and the Major League Baseball playoffs and there is a compelling case for any MazzInt Ruminations should be abbreviated for October if not suspended! They are certainly late in getting posted.

The obvious topics to discuss are the intelligence issues related to Iran’s nuclear program and whether an additional 40,000 (or is it 60,000) troops should be deployed to Afghanistan, because they are now dominating the national security landscape ----- even pushing healthcare below the fold if not to the back pages.  What I really want to get to though is the “new” National Intelligence Strategy (NIS).  Let see if we can cover all three in some sort of related short hand

Perhaps like me you where confused by President Obama’s announcement a few weeks ago that Iran had a second facility near the holy city of Qom pursuing weapons grade fissile material that the intelligence community has been watching for “some years.”  This sounds to me like a second facility that the IC knew about before December 2007 when an NIE was released assessing that Iran had suspended its nuclear weaponization efforts though not its nuclear development program.  I am not sure what the value is of debating why Iran has so many centrifuges since it’s obvious that an apocalyptic regime would demand that it have an apocalyptic weapon.  The far more interesting question is not whether Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, but rather what are the Mullahs’ intentions for them?  Common wisdom says Iran wants nuclear weapons to counter US actions in the Persian Gulf, to threaten Israel and to be taken seriously as a regional if not international power.  Related but apart from these strategic uses, I don’t see much IC or punditry consideration of Iran wanting a “Shia Bomb” as a counter to Pakistan’s “Sunni Bombs” in case the 12th Imam does not reveal himself in the foreseeable future. It probably doesn’t matter whether Iran’s motivation to be a nuclear power is based on it being a Shia Islamic Theocracy or real politic secular calculations as the dangers to the US and the region are the same either way, but I remain curious as to why the US cannot muster more Sunni Muslim pressure against Iran’s Shia nuclear ambitions.  Understanding Iran’s motivations would also seem critical to identifying the carrots and sticks that would be effective for changing Iran’s policy of developing nuclear weapons as well as being able to deter their use should the US be unsuccessful in changing Iran’s intentions to have nuclear weapons.

I understand that 40,000 to 60.000 as the number of additional troops needed to execute a counter-insurgency strategy is coming from the theater commander General McCrystal, who knows something about what he is up against in Afghanistan.  What is not so clear to me is whether the IC would agree with McCrystal based on the threat (i.e. number of insurgents) that 40,000 or more is the right number.  More significantly, I don’t believe even General McCrystal knows at this point how long a counter-insurgency force of approximately 120,000 would have to remain in Afghanistan to insure it does not revert back to being an Al Qaeda sanctuary.  Probably some of you like me are recalling Vietnam when the CIA estimated the number of Vietcong in South Vietnam at more than 200,000 meaning that the US military was probably 100,000 short of the force level needed to militarily defeat this guerrilla warfare adversary assuming that DoD’s 3 to 1 force ratio for success was correct.  All us remember Rumsfeld and Wolfwitz claiming Army Chief of Staff Shenseki’s advice that Phase IV troop levels for post invasion Iraq needed to be between 200,000 to 300,000 was “wildly off the mark” and the job could be done with 60,000 because the Iraqi people were anxious to be liberated from Saddam.  My point about Afghanistan is not whether the IC is providing objective threat assessments to the inter-agency national security team (including the Congressional Committees of jurisdiction) --- I am assuming that a good faith effort is being made to do just that ---  but whether the IC has the ability to assess the insurgency threat in Afghanistan with sufficient granularity to calibrate force levels to insure the success of NATO (mostly US) ground troops to successfully execute McCrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy?

The questions of adversary strategic intentions and threat order of battle brings us immediately to the NIS  -----  either the one issued in 2005 by the first DNI John Negroponte during the Bush Administration or the one released this past September by the third DNI Denny Blair for the Obama Administration?  Both NIS editions emphasize the importance of the IC moving beyond information sharing and collaboration to integration to insure decision makers have the complete intelligence picture for a given issue and can understand what IC assessments and judgments are based upon.   Neither, however, talks about “deep penetration” of the adversary either through HUMINT, Technical Collection, or Open Source means that could provide qualitative insights on the strategic intentions of Iran’s leadership or quantitative detail on the size and scope of insurgent forces in Afghanistan.  Instead the 2005 NIS seems to emphasize the importance of intelligence for promoting democracy abroad, while the 2009 NIS goes out of its way to remind all that the IC is bound by the Constitution and therefore must be mindful of protecting civil liberties.

There are more than just extent NIS goals and objectives as to why the IC can’t apparently provide informative intelligence on what motivates and constrains the decisions of Iran’s leaders or on the number and location of hardcore insurgents in Afghanistan.  A national intelligence strategy, however, that does not overtly recognize the importance of accessing and exploiting information, organizations, and events adversaries do not want the US to know about seems likely to lead to an IC where there will be more intelligence gaps like we have now for Iran and Afghanistan than information sharing and collaboration can fill no matter how integrated the IC becomes.

That’s what I think; what do think?

Share Your Thoughts: - U.S. Considers a New Assessment of Iran Threat @
This was published after blog was posted joemaz

Got the following from a long time friend: Interesting bottom line Joe what are the MOEs for the IC

Which immediately reminded me that some will tell you an attribute of a good strategy is metrics for measuring its effectiveness or utility.

I am certainly not able answer this important and thoughtful question about appropriate MOE's for the IC in this 500 word space, but my first reactin is "what is the IC providing tht is not available from anywhere else and observing when intel enables a better decision or policy joemaz

Thanks for this edition of MAZZINT. Two impressions:

First, the assassination of IRGC commanders in Sistan-Baluchistan on October 18th may be crudely satisfying to some in the West who are happy to see Iranians get a taste of their own medicine. But one wonders how the attacks figure into the Mullahs near and long-term strategies. As you point out, they may look to counter Shia bombs (i.e. Pakistani) atomic or vest-borne in kind. By extension then, do you see Americans falling victim to Iranian EFPs in AFPAK in the mid-term (if not already)?

Second, you ask: My point about Afghanistan is not whether the IC is providing objective threat assessments & but whether the IC has the ABILITY to assess the insurgency threat in Afghanistan with sufficient granularity to calibrate force levels to insure the success of & McCrystals counter-insurgency strategy? Here youve identified THE critical question for our policy makers in Washington.

The U.S. IC is no longer afraid to provide predictive analysis but one wonders how we do that in these scenarios without a top-down commitment (as defined in an NIS) to persistent, long-term presence in close proximity to our adversaries. One hopes that the senior intelligence officers who sign off on the Afghanistan assessment are as candid and introspective as General McChrystal was last week: Every day I realize how little about Afghanistan I actually understand. (We would also hope those SIOs are as experienced in the field as the CG.)

Related: David Rohdes series this week in the New York Times titled Held by the Taliban may be instructive. He writes: Over those months (of captivity), I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become & I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious & They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world. (Oct 18, 2009)

I agree with you: intelligence gaps persist better technology, integration of organizations, and so on will help but so will a few more very smart, very tough members of the IC who are willing to commit to long-term duty in harms way.